Friday, January 31, 2014

Great Food: Nachos

I have a great recipe for simple nachos that I love more than most other comfort foods that I can think of. It's kinda like a layer dip or casserole, and it's simple to make. Here's what you need:

1-14 oz can of Fat Free, Reduced Sodium Refried Beans
1-Pound of 97% Lean Hamburger
1-14 oz can of Reduced Sodium Black Olives, sliced or roughly chopped
1-Cup of Thick Salsa (the thin, liquidy stuff will make it too runny)
4-6 oz (by weight not volume) of Cheddar Cheese, shredded

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Meanwhile, brown the hamburger, and spread the refried beans evenly over the bottom of an 8"x8" or 9"x9" (either size will work) baking dish (glass is preferred). When hamburger is browned, spread it evenly over the beans. Then sprinkle the olives over the hamburger, followed by an even coat of salsa. It may be easiest to loosely pour the salsa over the entire dish, then spread it out with a rubber spatula.

Finally, coat the top of the dish with cheese, making sure to get cheese all the way to the edge of the baking dish so that it will seal in the other ingredients. Then throw it in the oven (not literally, of course) for 25 minutes. But check it after fifteen to make sure the cheese isn't burning (it shouldn't at 325).

Let cool for ten to fifteen minutes, and enjoy with tortilla chips and a beer.

Now what beer should you choose? Since this is going to be slightly salty and very savory (despite the low sodium ingredients), I recommend something light and refreshing to cleanse the palate. Something like Ska Brewing's Mexican Logger or Oskar Blues' Mamma's Little Yellow Pils. If you like Corona, go for it! But that's not my preference, so I don't recommend it.

Enjoy!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Physical Health

I'm not a health nut. Not by any stretch of the imaginations. I love bacon, bacon, cereal for breakfast (and not that fiber crap, sugar-filled cereal), coffee, bacon, beer, pizza, and did I mention bacon?

But that doesn't stop me from trying to be healthy. Now, I know some people may say that it's IMPOSSIBLE to be healthy with all of those foods. And if that's all I ate, I might agree with you.

Exercise alone won't balance out that diet. And I don't exercise as much as I should. But I work in a warehouse. I spend entire days doing nothing but exercise.

So how could I possibly stay healthy? I moderate my intake of the unhealthy stuff. Good food doesn't have to be bad for you. And most of what I've been eating these days is EXTREMELY healthy for me (from the pages of Cooking Light Magazine). I don't eat pizza or bacon every day (though I do have one cup of coffee every day, and a beer several times a week). But I'm cutting back on my candy intake, trying to drop it to nothing except maybe once a week (there's a candy dish at work that's easy to graze from). I have a soda once every six or eight months, not because I think they're unhealthy, per se, but simply because it doesn't refresh me as much as water, and doesn't quench other thirsts as well as beer.

What's my point? Good question. Mostly, I think it's important for people to feel well (and yes, I mean well, not good, though feeling good is important, too. Just another topic for another day). This isn't a judgement post. This isn't about guilting people into changing everything to look a certain way. I've just found that when I'm eating well, I feel well, both physically and mentally. And when I'm feeling poor, mentally, my physical health doesn't cause me any problems.

Do whatever it takes to feel well. And know that every day is an opportunity to do things that make you feel well. With a few exceptions, of course (like physical illness, and so forth).

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Truth About Life

No one likes a whiny-pants. That person who's always moping for one reason or another.

I'm not talking about the person whose life is genuinely tragic. Like, they graduate high school the same day their dog dies, then get rear-ended by a drunk driver and spend the next year in physical therapy, only to find out they'll never be able to get that soccer scholarship they always wanted. Then, to make matters worse, grandpa dies. But at his funeral, they meet the person of their dreams, fall hopelessly in love… I see I'm rambling. I'll stop because I'm sure you see where this is going.

My point is, life is hard. No matter who you are, there are difficulties you will have to face. As a writer, one of the biggest difficulties I face is dealing with self-doubt that turns to loneliness. It's never crushing for me, but it makes parts of my day difficult at times.

And I try not to whine about it. Because that won't help anyone. Especially me. Yes, writing is tough. Getting published is even harder. But as a writer who sought out other writers, at least 30% of my connections (both online and in the real world combined) are writers. And they're struggling through similar circumstances. And some of them are going through very real and painful situations in their personal lives on top of trying to juggle jobs, family, and writing.

A friend of mine from Borders recently told me that he's sick of all of the inspirational quotes he sees on Facebook. People pretending to be upbeat about their lives but doing nothing to fix their problems (at least that's how I interpreted his comment). He made this comment on a Facebook post I made about the struggle of getting an agent. I'm not always upbeat about the process, but I'm not whiney or quick to give up. I've pointed out several times over the past year that writing is an emotional and mental struggle for me. But I always make a big deal out of how determined I am. Not because of what I want other people to think of me, but because of what I want to think of me.

It's easy to get defeated. It's easy to give up. But the truth is, giving up sucks more than fighting harder and trying to succeed.

The truth about life is that struggle will surround us forever. It's impossible to escape. And the harder truth is that perseverance doesn't always produce the results we want. Yes, that sucks. A lot. But it's a truth that MUST be faced. The good news is that perseverance DOES produce results. And eventually, with the right attitude, it will help produce results that we can learn to be content with.

Life is going to change a lot for me over the next year. In a good way, but it's going to take a lot of effort. I know I keep talking about some of these big changes, and I promise I'll let you all know about them soon. For now, enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Where to Start

My last book started very easily. The entire book was inspired by one little line. One little idea. This new project feels different because it is different. I had one idea, but the idea was the beginning of one of two stories in this book.

The problem I'm having is that I don't know where to start. I know many authors (especially new authors) struggle with beginnings. And I don't want to fight with something that's probably going to be rewritten two or three times anyway. The problem is, without the proper beginning, I feel like I'm taking over someone else's half-finished job.

So where do I start? With the story. The character. The internal struggle. The tugging of her heart that makes her love her mom and miss her dad. The longing to stay with one and see the other. The childish need for them to be together, but the realization that that's not possible anymore, and as a growing young person, she's in a position to make choices for her future. And she has to start thinking about her own life.

I want this story to start on a high note. I look books that start out optimistic. Maybe I'm sadistic when dealing with my characters, but I don't like putting miserable characters into miserable situations. There's no fun in that.

Anyway, I guess I should get to my writing. Thanks for letting me ramble to get my mind moving!

Have a good day, and I'll see you on Friday.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Big Things!

I have SO many things I want to talk about, but I CAN'T! Secrecy is important.

Which might make some people wonder why I'm even bothering with this blog post. Well, that's because it gives me the opportunity to discuss the importance of discretion.

I know. Tons of people (including myself) talk about this topic all the time. But that's because it's important. If you plan on putting yourself out on the internet, shining a spotlight on yourself, you need to make sure that parts of your life remain private. This isn't simply about figuring out how much to share, it's vital that some things STAY PRIVATE.

Sure, bowel movements are definitely inappropriate topics to discuss. At all times. All times.

I can't express this enough. NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE SIZE AND SHAPE OF YOUR POOP! NO ONE! So keep it off the web.

More importantly, if you're (for example) getting ready to publish a book, parts of your contract are confidential. What does that mean? It means DON'T SHARE IT. Be discreet.

There are details that can be shared in time, and keeping those secrets (while teasing them) is actually a great way to build excitement and generate interest. And in the case of book contracts, it can keep you from getting in a lot of trouble with your publisher.

And in case you're wondering, I'm not working on a book contract. I'm actually working on...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Strange Things

I had a great post ready to go for today, but a few things came up that made it inappropriate for me to post today. So rather than posting a long, thoughtful blog entry, I'm just going to say, "Have a great weekend."

I WILL get the other post up some day, just when the timing is better.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Life Changes

Over the past few years, I've been steadily making changes to my life that have gone a long way toward improving my ability to write and forge a future beyond my current day job. Some of these changes were easy, like joining a writers' organization and finding a critique group. Going to conferences has been fun, and I've been challenged quite a bit in ways the improved my writing even more than simply sitting down to write.

Now, I'm taking another step: I'm going to read at least five books on writing this year. That may not sound like a lot, but I rarely read non-fiction. And most of my reading about writing comes from articles and seminar handouts. I'm saying five books because I don't honestly know how many I can get through while pushing myself to read more fiction.

I'm excited, and as I work through my first book, I'm already learning a lot. And by learning a lot, I mean that I'm remembering some of the fundamentals that I generally take for granted.

I'm going to start freelancing soon, too, if I can. I need experience in the writing industry if I'm going to make it my full-time job. For those two reasons, my first two books are WORDS FAIL ME by Patricia T. O'Conner and THE ELEMENTS OF EXPRESSION by Arthur Plotnik.

After that, I think it's time I finally read Stephen King's ON WRITING.

What other books should I read? I have one more title to work through that I can't share yet for secret reasons, but any suggestions are more than welcome!

And what are you reading right now?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

The final installment of Revis's debut trilogy did nothing less than excite my enthusiasm and hope for the future of Sci-Fi writing, especially for Y/A readers.

Over the years, I've had an odd relationship with Sci-Fi, and I can say Revis went a long way toward drawing me into the fold of future ├╝ber enthusiasts.

Every stray thread left dangling at the end of books one and two (of which there are only a few) are neatly tied up, along with the engaging plot arc of this novel. The characters find new depths, explore more complex relationships and ideas.

And most of all, it's fun! I stayed up WAY past my bedtime for four nights straight trying to reach the end simply because I couldn't stop reading. It was THAT good.

I won't spoil the story for you with descriptions or summaries, but know that the characters come across as real people who I can very closely relate to. By the time I reached the bottom of page 1, I felt like I'd returned to a familiar world, and I got to spend time watching my friends grow and change from teenagers suddenly in over their heads to mature adults, still in over their heads but way more capable of handling the world around them.

Revis has a great career ahead of her, in my opinion, and I think Sci-Fi might be my new favorite genre BECAUSE of her!

Go buy the entire trilogy, follow her on Twitter, and have a blast in the future.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

No Excuses!

Throughout life, goals that we set come and go. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for missing those goals (a death in the family, car accident, lack of funds, etc.), but often times, it's easier to simply make excuses as to why those goals are simply unattainable. Then we give up altogether. For success to occur, however, we must face those legitimate possibilities of failure, dare them to make us fail, and then try our hardest to overcome those difficulties, even if that means reaching goals later than expected. Or even adapting to circumstances to change those goals into something better than the originally planned "end" to our efforts.

For me, I've found that I have the most motivation and inspiration for my writing at about 7:45 am, Monday through Friday. When I'm on my way out the door for my day job. It would be easy to say, "I can't write at any other time, so I just need to figure out how to get myself into a position to stay at home and write all the time. Until then, I'll stop writing."

The truth, though? I've found that I WRITE best (regardless of inspiration and motivation) when I SIT DOWN AND WRITE! No excuses, no whining, and no sitting back and wishing my life were different.

That's my advice to anyone interested in succeeding ANYWHERE in life. Figure out how to make something happen, and if you never "have the time," go out and make time.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Charity of the Month: Compassion International

Well, the problem with being on vacation and completely zoning out is that I forget some of the most important things I need to do. Including a prompt COTM post.

I will not be discouraged at my own laziness, instead, I bring to you: Compassion International.

I've talked about this group many times before, and I've been privileged to stay involved with them for more than seven years. They do so many great things for people around the world that it's tough to pick one program to recommend. I love that they allow me to sponsor a child who might otherwise starve, but I also love their HIV/AIDS relief program, the disaster relief they work on, and a relatively new program that helps young adults leaving their sponsorship program to get a college education.

All in all, they are one of my favorite charities, and if you have the ability, please pop on over to their site and donate a few bucks. It's a great cause, and they can always use more help.

Have a great week, I'll see you all on Wednesday, and Happy New Year!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Now, Vacations are for Relaxing

Sure, I got my outline finished. It's been a tough slog this time around. And as a result, it's time to relax. I have a few days left on my vacation, and since I had waaaaayyyyy too much stuff to do on the first three quarters of my vacation, I'm going to spend the rest of it working on my wonderful relationship with my awesome wife.

My advice to all of you? Relax when you can, and spend as much time as possible working on your dreams.